Hats Off!

I’m no Saint.

This is probably one of the most useless phrases ever coined. I mean, it says literally nothing. It also sets the bar really low. The devil himself could use this phrase, and be 100% truthful! Think about that.

I know, you know what I mean – Ms. Look-the-other-way when a crippled beggar approaches. And you, Mr. Pee-by-the-roadside, you know better!

But hey, I’m not judging. OK, I am. A little bit. I mean, is it too much to ask that we not pee in public? Why force innocent passers-by to look hastily away, as if they are the ones being indecent? But you have your reasons, I’m sure. Just like I could easily explain keeping my eyes averted from every other beggar.

“I don’t have coins.” Oh, that makes perfect sense, because paper money is pretty much useless to beggars!

“Some beggars are frauds.” So true!

“My shillings won’t get him off the street.” So, so true!

I could go on and on. But here’s the clincher;

“I can’t help everyone.”

Bill Gates, with all his money, couldn’t help everyone if he wanted to. He is only worth 86.9 Billion dollars, and there are 7.5 Billion people in the world…mhhhh…

“Hey Gates…Pssst, I have some mathematical ideas (chuckle, chuckle)”

I can just hear Mr. Gates muttering under his breath “Can everyone just quit trying to divide my money?”

“Oh, sorry sir. I wasn’t going to suggest that all!”

“Right.” Eye roll.

Now there’s one thing I bet I could do better than Mr. Gates – eye rolls. I swear, if I had a penny for every time I’ve rolled my eyes…

Seriously though, what could I possibly do? My bank statement can hardly make a statement. Besides, there has to be someone better in the remaining 7.49 something, something billion people, right?

Someone better placed;

Someone smarter;

Someone born in the right continent;

Someone with the right skin color;

The right accent;

The right talent;

Someone raised in the right environment;

Taught the right things;

By the right teachers;

Someone with the right perspective;

The right opinion;

The right resources;

Someone better;

Surely, there must be!

But that’s just the thing – there is, and there isn’t.

I ‘m willing to bet my last penny, that almost everyone else is thinking the exact same thing. Laughing nervously and looking the other way. Holding their breath and waiting on someone else to do something.

Then, there are a few people – not saints or billionaires. Just ordinary people with yards of limitations and personal struggles. People who nevertheless, take it upon themselves to do something. Not publicly, in the way of politicians wishing to be reelected. Not selfishly, in the way of preachers, sowing only where they may reap. Not typically, in the way of good people, doing no wrong, righting no wrongs.

Today, I’d like to pay homage to one such person.

Francis Kinoti;

A man with passion the size of Kilimanjaro – You will find him unafraid in the heart of Baragoi.

Undaunted by cultural constraints, or the language barrier, he is right at home with the women of Nachola. For five years, he has worked tirelessly, to save the lives of the women and children. He has sensitized and adapted. He has built maternal shelters that conform to the Turkana culture.

He has lobbied and pleaded. He has dipped, many times into his own not-so-deep pocket, for a cause he believes in. Sending new mothers on their way, with care packages – second hand clothes for the newborns and some food for the family back home.

“We have never lost a baby or a mother,” He says with pride. The same pride with which he speaks of the flowers and vegetables thriving outside the maternity ward. The praises he lavishes upon the women who water them, in spite of the drought in this region. The women who cook for the laboring mothers. The women who stay with him, sometimes all night, while he helps brings to light, yet another miracle of birth. The women who protest loudly, when he tells them that he’s taking a short leave – the first in five years!

This man leaves me in awe.

If I never meet Barack Obama or Bill Gates, I’ll still know, that I’ve met a truly great person. A man who takes the little he has, turns it into something, and touches countless lives.

Take your hat off for Mr. Kinoti, won’t you? And while you do, ask yourself as I often do –

“What do I believe in, and what am I doing about it?”

Samburu

It’s a beehive in my head. Well…isn’t it always?

But this is different. Usually, the energy trickles all the way to my pinky toe. Not today though. Today it feels like someone packed me in a sack, tied a knot at the top and tossed it in the back of a groaning rickety truck with the potatoes!

In a manner of speaking, this is kind of what happened!

Ours wasn’t a rickety lorry. But on that bumpy road to Baragoi, it might as well have been. We churned so much, I think my breakfast turned to ghee. It was hot, so we kept the windows open. Rolled them up each time a vehicle approached with a cloud of dust. Four windows and four passengers…let’s just say the response wasn’t always timely. Lots of dust settled in my hair. Going by the observations of the others. Of course, they couldn’t see their own hair!

What we all saw, was endless road. I didn’t realize there were so many different versions of the question “How much farther?”

Thankfully, the spirit of adventure got the better of us. Amid the gaps of silence and the cracks of laughter, Samburu sprawled on before our eyes.

There were stretches (or blips) of road that had been selectively leveled – the way the car glided smoothly over them…sheer bliss. Then there were stretches of road, rough like you wouldn’t believe. Then there were spots of road, so rough they brought the car to a near stop.

We knew instinctively, that these were the black spots. The crevices where armed morans lurked patiently in wait. Nerve racking moments, if ever there were any!

There were moments when we stuck our phones out of the window to snap pixels of memory. The scenery before us was that beautiful. There were moments when the driver slowed down and we shuttered away. Then there were stretches when he simply shook his head and drove on.

“People don’t stop here.”

We knew not to ask for an explanation.

“On your left is the Suguta Valley.”

“Where the -?” Someone starts to ask

“Where 37 police officers were ambushed and killed. Yes.”

The fear in the car is now palpable.

“But the exact spot of the ambush is far from here.” He adds quickly.

Relief buoys open our chests. We amble on, neck on neck with the infamous valley. Signs of life are few and far in between. Flocks of animals running amok – seemingly without shepherds.

“Just hit a goat and see what happens.” The driver remarks.

Sure enough, we find dotted along the lonely road, sprinkles of shuka-clad morans. Sometimes lone; sometimes in groups of three or four. Sometimes leaning on sticks; sometimes seated on rocks. They seem harmless. But for a small detail- the AK 47 rifles hanging from their shoulders or resting passively by their sides. Harmless. Almost.

The journey continues, the sharp breaths and the stark beauty continue too. We vow to take better pictures on the way back. Finally, the annoying question begets an affirmative answer

“Yes. We are in Baragoi.”

Nothing could have prepared us for this deceptively quiet town. The air is so beautifully fresh. The food is delicious. The people look on curiously as we stroll past. We look curiously at the wooded slopes just beyond the town. Numerous battles have been fought there, numerous lives lost.

We retreat reluctantly to our rooms. The taps are dry, but the lights are on. For a scary moment, I notice movement just outside my scanty curtain. I freeze, my eyes glued to the window.

“It’s just a shaking tree branch!”  I heave. The night is poised to be long.

In the morning, we visit the monument erected in honor of The fallen Officers. A fresh unit of Officers has just arrived. They are dressed in full body armor; one cannot help but stand in awe of them.

“It is not easy but we do it.” The Commanding Officer tells us. The conflict pits friend against friend. Age mates. Neighbors. But during a raid, they suddenly become the Pokots VS the Turkanas or the Samburus. Sworn enemies.

“Is there hope that the conflict will end?”

“There is hope.” He says. “Change is slow, but change is coming.”

I look at him. I see his brave smile. And I believe him. I have to believe him.

There is hope. There has to be.

Ask my pillow

It is 8.25pm. As in 5 minutes to my bed time. That’s right, I clock out with the chicken. I don’t hear anyone judging when I rise at those ungodly hours – with the chicken – so I don’t expect any judgement on this side of the coin either. Besides, I do stay up late every blue moon. Don’t ask me how frequent those are – I haven’t a clue. People say stuff like this all the time, so I say it too!

It’s like when I buy water melon and hit it with my open palm – I have no idea what a good melon is supposed to sound like, but people around me are doing it, so I do it. Far be it for me to appear unsophisticated in this complicated arena! Life is hard enough without the pitiful eyes of water melon experts boring into my back as I saunter off with my fruit. But then I get home, split the bitch open and find white staring back at me.

Yeah. True story.

But here’s the one contest I could win right now – yawning. I yawn. And then I yawn some more. (I hear yawning is so contagious that even reading about it could make someone yawn.)

People are always telling me what a strong person I am. I’ve heard it so many times, it’s beginning to sound like one of those things that people just say for the heck of it. Like when you’re introduced to someone you really couldn’t care less about knowing, and the words just tumble out of your mouth;

“Pleased to meet you.”  Really?

“You are strong Martha.” Yeah, whatever.

I know I’m strong. I can handle stuff. I have handled stuff. (Universe, please don’t take this as an invitation to lug more obstacles down my path…I’m just saying). But as far as sleep deprivation goes, I’m as jelly as they come. Sleep is my nemesis. I never met an arch rival I love this much!

The things it has cost me. The things it has stolen, while I cozied in its embrace. The things I have gladly given up because “Tomorrow is another day.”

The Aces I’d have scored in high school, if only I’d had the tenacity to study in the wee hours!  Not me though. Not for lack of trying. I woke up a couple of times. Even dipped my warm feet in freezing water, just so I could stay awake and study. Flipped a few pages. Looked around at all the serious students hacking away. Flipped a few more pages. Yawned. Yawned some more.

Then the little devil on my shoulder would quip;

“How do you even know there’ll be a question from the section you are reading?”

Good point.

“Is this really worth your sleep?”

Errrm, Little Angel? Any time you want to speak up with a counter argument, I’m all ears!

“It’s better to fail the exam knowing you got your sleep, than to fail the exam, knowing you lost your sleep!”

That’s it! I’m going back to bed!

It was the same, every single time. I’d quietly crawl back to bed. At least I had the presence of mind to feel shame. But sleep always knew how to take care of that. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I’d beam to a place where shame wasn’t even a painting on the wall. A place I’m yearning to go right this instant. Not just me, though. There’s a crowd in my head chanting

“Sleep, sleep, sleep!”

The chants are getting louder. More fervent. I can’t ignore them much longer. This is after all a world where majority rules. But as heavy as my eyelids get, I know I must face up to my nemesis. Push back just a little bit. Rant a while about sleep deprivation, and pray to God, that this article comes off half coherent.

But the little devil quips;

“Tomorrow is a day too.”

And the little Angel stamps her foot. She does have a voice, after all;

“Yes. Tomorrow is a day too. So sleep tomorrow!”

Little devil coughs noisily but says nothing.

“Is the sleep really worth disappointing yourself?”

Not even a yawn from little devil!

“It is better to yawn from sleep deprivation, than to yawn from self deprivation.”

Little devil downs his fork and goes to sleep. He knows when he’s beat.

My nemesis smiles condescendingly at my little victory dance. She knows, it is only a matter of time before I crawl eagerly to her. For now, though, the crowd chants;

“You win! You win!”

I open my mouth to laugh, and a yawn bursts into throttle.

I too know, when I’m beat.

Friends

I’ve got friends in high places. Friends whose names can only be whispered with a hint of awe, or chanted with a dash of fervor. Friends whose high stature I cannot gauge exactly because to an ant, even the table top is a high place. Not to insinuate that I’m an ant. I might be; really depends who’s looking.

I’ve got friends with dreams. Friends who dream and forget to wake up. Friends who tangle the dream so they fail to grasp it. Friends who pine and whine for lost dreams. Friends who wine and dine with waking dreams.

I’ve got friends with the corporate twang. And friends with the ‘News at Nine’ twang. (Don’t you know? There’s a difference!) I’ve got friends with the jua kali lingo. People who pimp up cars worthy of parking spots at Villa Rosa and yet never get to share the spotlight. I’ve got friends with the changaa slur. I know, I know… I’m shocked too that addiction cuts right across the highness of your loft or lowliness of your makeshift home!

I’ve got friends in high heels. The stuff of Gucci and Prada. Straight off the runway or the flea market. I’ve got Friends in sneakers. They just love doing it or kicking it or dunking it or you know. ..whatever people in sneakers do.

I’ve got friends in Shukas, with spears to boot. Friends who wear tyres for sandals and drink their milk straight out of the cow’s udder.

I’ve got friends who wear Afros because kinky is so ‘right now’. Friends who lock it because redemption is a song that frees the roots of their hair. Friends who straighten it because we all want to be Rapunzel. Doesn’t matter how impossible that pipe dream is. That’s just your opinion. Hair will grow or hair will be bought!

I’ve got ballsy friends. Friends who live on the edge. Friends who club hop without a cent to their name, sending friends scampering because a leech is only fun the first one hundred times! Friends who party hard and post photos of six figure bills. Friends who scuba dive and friends who sky dive. (I’ve always wondered though – if it really were sky diving, shouldn’t they be diving toward the sky, not away from it?)

I’ve got friends who live on Facebook and leave nothing out. Friends who take ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ to a whole new level of keeping up’! Except their diamonds are fake and their lashes are fake and their butts are…wait…I don’t really know what am saying any more! I guess they really are keeping up with the Ks.

I’ve got friends with poolside bodies. Friends who make me want to keep mine covered as zealously as I want to get theirs uncovered. I’m so conflicted right now…thank heavens for the cover of art or is it the art of cover! I can pretend I’m not actually crushing on that hot poolside trainer of mine. I’ll be like “whaaaat? I was just goofing around…but if you want…we can just get this kissing stuff out of our systems. No? I was just kidding anyway.”

I’ve got friends as timeless as time. Friends I wish could live forever. Friends I hope will still be friends in the next life. And the life after that. Friends I’ve lost. Friends I’ve walked away from or watched walk away. Friends I’d call back or run to if only my pride wasn’t worth the two cents on my chipped shoulder. Friends I can’t find because they are just lost in this haystack of unsocial media. Friends I’ll find in this very haystack. Friends I’m yet to make. Friends I will make in this (how-dare-I-call-it-unsocial) media! Friends I fist-bump today.

Friends I hope, will bump back.

Brothers – The Sequel

So, we’ve established that I love the hell out of brothers. And not just my own! Anyone’s brother will do. OK…not anyone… I do have standards! (Don’t you just hate it when people say stuff and then immediately retract?)

They’ll get you all riled up, chanting slogans and then when you’re too far gone to tell your own toes apart, they’ll just hang you out to dry. It happened one time with my brothers. Just the one time, scouts’ honor. Don’t worry, I don’t actually expect you to believe me. If you did, I’d probably say kudos! People like you are the reason that con artists get to be called artists! Your gullibility is their canvas.

Don’t feel bad. I’m gullible too. But hey, if it helps some random stranger become an artist…why not? We can just write it down as one of the ways through which I give back to humanity. Seeing as giving back is all the rage these days. (Even if all we’re ‘giving back’ is rage!)

So, about my brothers and that one time…

‘Twas a cold, stormy afternoon, Ben was just minding his own business. Translation, he was bored out of his skull. He couldn’t go outside and there was nothing ‘safe’ to do. Dad was in the house, and that generally had a way of making the universe a very tiny space. There was no better recipe for disaster. Someone was bound to slip up.

So Ben… twiddling his thumbs but staying stubbornly out of trouble. Staring forlornly at the wet outdoors through the kitchen window. Along came Emi. A fellow with time to kill and a knack for killer ideas. No way this guy was surrendering to boredom without a fight! He leaned on the kitchen counter and cast his hook rather casually.

“Let’s loosen the screws on Mom’s pans.”

“Why?” Ben asks incredulously.

“So when Mom lifts the pan, the handles will come loose and the food will spill!”

“Yeah…that would be so funny!” Ben latches on. Suddenly, boredom is on the outside looking in.

The boys soon get to work. By the time Dad calls Emi twenty minutes later, they’ve done (or is it undone) a few good pans.

“Where’s your brother?”

“In the kitchen”

“What’s he doing?”

“Loosening the screws on Mom’s pans.”

“Why is he doing that?”

“So the food can spill when Mom lifts the pan.”

Guy chucked his brother under the bus without even batting an eyelid – it did not end well for Ben. He didn’t even bother defending himself; seeing as he got caught knife in pan. He was sore for days – plotting his revenge. Emi had a missile the size of Rwanda trained on his back.

But karma stepped in.

Now, for you to understand this part of the story, I have to introduce a chap named Otis. Neighborhood punk who walked with a limp (read, bounce) and a match in his mouth. Yap, our childhood hero was Rambo – deal with it. Otis was like a real life Rambo. His shoulders weren’t nearly as broad as Stallone’s – matter of fact, he was downright scrawny. But he sure could work that match. The boys were soon limping and chewing matches – just like him.

Otis had a few threadbare waistcoats. Apparently, they completed the Rambo look. (I personally preferred the shirtless Rambo…Holy Molly!)  But the boys had other ideas. Just one problem, the coveted waistcoats weren’t a feature in their closets. Then one Saturday, Emi sauntered out of his room spotting one. His explanation;

“Otis gave it to me.”

You could just see the envy in Ben’s eyes.

Come Sunday morning, Emi was spotting a really old shirt for church. You know how boys’ arms grow really long and then their long sleeved shirts become three-quarter length? That was the image before us.

“Put on a better shirt.” Dad boomed.

Minutes turn into more minutes. We were all just standing awkwardly waiting for Emi. He finally emerged in a better shirt. Even I knew not to point out the obvious – that was Ben’s shirt. Dad said nothing and we made it to church – incident free. I’m not telepathic, but I know Emi prayed extra hard that morning.

I don’t really know if God listened, but after church, Emi got the very call he’d begged God to divert.

“Where are the shirts I bought you last week?”

“In the bedroom.”

“Bring them.”

This time Emi’s limp to the bedroom was real. None of that fake Rambo stuff. He finally returned, without the shirts.

“You gave them to Otis.” Dad didn’t even look up from his newspaper.

“No, Dad.”

“Then where are they?”

Silence.

“Tomorrow, before I leave, I want to know the truth about those shirts.” Dad stated calmly, “I know you got duped into swapping them for those useless waistcoats!”

“No Dad. I have the shirts!”

Ahem. Very famous last words…

The next morning, the minute Dad stepped out of his room, Emi was behind him –

“Oh Daddy!” He declared, as if the thought had just that instant crossed his mind “I’ve remembered – it’s Otis who took the shirts!”

According to Ben, the fellow had spent all night rehearsing the ‘Surprise speech’

“I feel sorry for him.” He muttered.

But I could tell from the twinkle in his eye that he felt many things – and sorry just wasn’t one of them! Plus, Emi had to return the vests and get his shirts back.

Karma is a bitch I really want on my side.

Brothers!

I love my siblings. Love them to death. But it wasn’t always like this. Growing up, I hated my brothers’ guts. I mean, I loved them. Mostly because I had to. They were my brothers. I didn’t exactly have a choice. But they drove me crazy! Always picking on me. Locking me out of mischief because; a) I was a girl b) I was Dad’s favorite and c) I was always telling on them.

But with my stellar, non-mischievous track record, why wouldn’t I be Dad’s favorite?  I suppose the boys had a teeny tiny point about me telling on them. But if you ask me, they brought it upon themselves – I wouldn’t have told on them if I was part of the mischief, now would I? And locking me out because I was a girl? How dare they? I could climb trees and torture cats just as well as they could! OK, I couldn’t, but still!

Come to think of it, I blame them squarely for the fact that I can’t climb a tree to save my life! They wouldn’t let me practice with them. They barred me from doing anything remotely fun. This one time, my brothers came home from boarding school singing Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’. That was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. And so I tried to learn the song, but I was accused of mimicry and banned from ever singing that song. The nerve! Like when did they patent a song they’d just heard on the radio?

To be fair, the boys got enough hidings for putting their baby sister in harm’s way. Anything that happened to me, the tiniest scratch on my knee was automatically their fault. As far as Dad was concerned, they were supposed to protect me, period.

This one time, we were playing outside. It was just before Christmas; I know this because the Christmas goat was lying somewhere in the corner of the compound, chewing its cud. I was maybe six. The game was centered around lions chasing the children while their mothers called out to them. You remember that game, right? So I was running, not really looking where I was going because the lion was gaining on me. Next thing I know, I was on top of the goat, and my face was right between the goat’s horns. A horn missed my left eye by a hair’s breadth – I still have a tiny scar to show for it! So there was a lot of blood (well, it seemed like a lot) and a whole lot of screaming. The hiding those boys received! I could hear the whacks over my own screams as Dettol met raw flesh.

It didn’t matter that there were other kids, or that it was an honest accident. I mean, if I were to apportion blame, I’d start with the guy who bought the goat, aka same guy who was delivering the punishment, aka Dad. But who cares about little details like those?

So yeah, I get it. They just got tired of taking the fall for everything. Although, many times, it was actually their fault. Like the time I asked them to turn on the light in my room because I couldn’t reach the switch. I was five, and terrified of darkness. The boys knew this. They should have just turned on the light for me. But they said no. So I went to my room, tried to get on a chair to reach the switch. I don’t know how, but the chair cut my foot pretty bad.  I spared no details in recounting the story. And of course, they got what was coming to them.

Sometimes it was their fault, sometimes it wasn’t. Either way, they got a hiding. From where they were standing, I suppose it was better to take punishment for stuff that was actually their fault. So out of their fun games I stayed. They were determined to protect the hell out of me (read, their behinds). Sob. Sob.

I have to say though, for whatever grief they caused, they paid back tenfold. They teased; but they also comforted. They shut me out of their games; but they also let me sleep in their room when I was too scared to sleep by myself. They barred me from singing with Bob; but they also regaled me with cool escapades of boarding school. They made me cry; but I always cried when they had to leave for school. They drove me crazy; but I missed them like hell when they were gone.

“You sulk when they’re here; but you cry when they’re gone.” Mom always, reminded me.

Best description yet of my relationship with my brothers back then. They were my pick-me-ups; a job that fell squarely on their shoulders since they were most certainly the fellows who dropped me in the first place! They stopped at nothing to protect me – it was practically in their DNA.

And it was kind of fun. For a while. Then I grew up and it stopped being fun. In high school, I had a beautiful hand writing, and so it was my job to address love cards from the older girls to their boyfriends. This one time, my brother recognized my handwriting on his best friend’s love card. You know the adage about shooting first and asking questions later? Exactly what my brother did. If I recall correctly, he forbade me from dating until I turned eighteen.

Again, the nerve! Like who the hell did he think he was? I don’t know if I was angrier that he’d jumped to the wrong conclusion, or that he thought himself powerful enough to forbid me from doing anything! I think I got me a boyfriend just to spite his presumptuous arse! OK, I didn’t. But I certainly considered it!

Those boys taught me to hate the guts of people I loved so damn much! I suppose it was training for all the love-hate cocktails I keep having with men that aren’t my brothers…at least I hold my own in um… said situations.

A toast to brothers!

Go on, be a hero

 

I met a woman yesterday. Not in the usual hi-my-name-is kind of way. No Siree! There were no introductions. No attempts at pleasantries. Funny thing, the encounter blended seamlessly with the grey of my thoughts against the backdrop of the ICU waiting bay.

Worried faces and slumped shoulders were all I could see. I didn’t need to look at their faces to know what they were feeling. I was feeling it too. So when this woman approached – strike that; I didn’t actually see her approach. I was far too engrossed in Doctor Google’s ‘tried and tested’ answers. And then suddenly she was just standing there.

She looked like she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her posture slightly bent, her left hand clutching her long dress. She asked how we were, but I think she was just being polite.

“There’s a child in here.” She gestured. “She needs blood. Would you mind donating?”

I have to say I was taken aback. It’s not everyday someone asks for your blood. I mean, it happens every day. We see the blood appeals on social media. Faceless appeals. Just names and blood groups.

Many times, the blood group isn’t ours. Many times the blood group is ours, but we’re out of town or we aren’t feeling well or we just don’t like needles and hospitals. Many times we read the message and promptly forget. Many times we hope that the situation isn’t that grave, or that someone else will respond.

I guess it’s easy enough to do that when all you have to do is put down your phone. God knows I’ve done it many, many times. But this time was different. This time, she was right there. Giving more details than would normally appear on plain text; The worry lines on her face. The strain in her voice.

“What blood group do you need?”

“Any.”

Apparently the blood group didn’t matter. The baby needed plasma. (I tried to research this, but I got lost in all the FFP, PRP and ABO jargon. So don’t take my word for it, ask a Doctor!)

“How old is the baby?”

“Seven days…Please save this life…” Her voice cracks.

On our way to the lab, I notice she’s walking rather slowly, her gait labored. Up and down the stairs we went.

“Are you the mother?”

“Yes. They just told me this evening that she needs blood.”

Oh dear God.

Are you alone?”

“Yes. I have no one in Nairobi.”

I looked at her. I saw a mother in full regalia.

“She was perfectly healthy at birth. We were discharged from hospital and then we got home and she just collapsed. We were referred here by ambulance.”

All the way from Isiolo!

Half a liter of blood later, I learned that baby Faturi would need 4 more donors. My blood was only good for fifteen platelets. Her mother, in her postnatal state, still had more rounds to do; more strangers to approach; more pleas to make on her baby’s behalf.

I’m no stranger to heartbreak, but this was something else.

Except, it wasn’t.

This was no different from all the other people pleading every day for blood on social media. I know because today, I had to make an appeal of my very own. Same ICU; different patient; very specific blood group. O negative.

Belatedly, I realize I didn’t even take Mama Faturi’s number. I don’t even know if she got all the donors she needed.

But here’s what I do know: The situation is always THAT grave. Nobody launches a blood appeal to kill time. There’s always someone who needs blood. Sometimes it’s a faceless stranger. Sometimes it’s someone you love. Sometimes, it’s you.

Baby Faturi was born seven days ago. Hannington was perfectly healthy until a drunk driver run him over nine days ago.

Save a life, will you?

***

The above patients are in ICU at Mater Hospital Nairobi.

It really is rewarding to do good. If not at Mater, anywhere. Someone always, always, needs blood.

Look out!

I seldom take elevators. When I do, it’s with a sense of foreboding. Knowing that any minute, the metal ropes could snap and fling the car into the ever growing abyss beneath. I’m being morbid, I know. But everyone’s always talking about the bigger picture. Always alluding to this sweeping panoramic understanding of what really matters. But when life makes an abrupt turn in midair, suddenly we realize just how inept and minute we are; just how twisted our priorities are.

Last Friday I thought the metallic rope was snapping because I got an apology I didn’t even know was due to me. It felt…. weird. I had been wronged, but the apology was extremely vague on details. Apparently, the perpetrator didn’t think I deserved answers to questions like what, when, why or how? Nevertheless, she required forgiveness. Now that’s what I call nerve!  So I granted forgiveness. I didn’t really have much wiggle room. And then of course I burdened my little head pondering how much damage had been caused by the unspecified wrong. What exactly had I pardoned? What a terrible predicament. Or so, I thought.

On Saturday, I thought the rope was really, really snapping. All morning, I went about my errands with an all too familiar sense of apprehension. I had very little time to do so much. I was meeting my cousin at noon for an important task.

He was late for the meeting. He didn’t answer my calls. Very unusual, but I didn’t think much of it; he’s a busy guy. At 1pm, I learned the real reason for his ‘rudeness’.  He was lying unconscious at ‘Accidents and Emergencies’! Around the time I was snoozing my alarm that morning, he was being rushed to hospital, having been run over by a drunk driver! I was frantic. Calling even more frantic people. Praying. Rushing to hospital. The elevator was screeching on its hinges. My fear reverberated in the eerie silence of my own helplessness.

My cousin was banged up and disoriented. But his spirits were way up. Everybody blamed it on the morphine. I suppose they were right. But I think it might have had a lot to do with the fact that he’d been nicked by the grim reaper’s scythe, and lived to tell the tale! Best high there is! We could all breathe again. Or so, I thought.

On Sunday, the rope snapped. For real. It stopped fooling around. It just let go and sent me plummeting to the very abyss of grief. That morning, around the time I was easing into the laziness of Sunday morning, Mama Tendai was breathing her last. The news hit like a ton of…I don’t know…a mangled wreck of metal.

Outside my four walls, the world carried on spinning. The street bustled. Horns blared. People hurried. Mice scurried. Hawks soared.  It appeared I was plummeting all by my lonesome. The barrage of emotions unforgiving. Shock. Denial. Confusion. Fury. Guilt.

It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. Only, it was.

The shock wanes in the face of time. Denial falters in the face of all the evidence. Confusion settles with the dust. Fury burns out with hopelessness. But the guilt, the guilt clings like molten rubber to skin. It burns too. The things I should have done, but didn’t. The words I should have spoken. The moments I should have seized. The wrongs I should have righted. The rights I should have applauded. The guilt burns. It shadows me into the darkness. Normal human functions are splattered with guilt.

“How could I eat at a time like this?”

“How could I laugh?”

“How could my mind still wander to things that seem so trivial?”

“How could I carry on living? Breathing? Sleeping? Dreaming?”

The guilt beats down until every inch of conscience is drenched in it. It awakens a hankering to be better. To do better.

I’m reminded just how short my journey is; just how fleeting my chances to hit the bulls eye. So now, I ride the elevator with a little less apprehension. I’m compelled to look through the glass, at the people getting smaller and smaller as the elevator gains altitude. I’m forced to acknowledge that that’s me too. Minute. Insignificant. An ant in a world teeming with massive shoes. Any minute, I could get quashed and the ant hill would carry on unperturbed. But I’ve been spared thus far. Somehow, my rope still holds.

Somehow, my fire is reignited. Must be all the oxygen fanning through my lungs.  I must honor the memory of my fallen comrade. I must draw from her legend. I must feel the love for those that still live. I must live so I too can inspire love. I must plan less about planning. I must dream less about dreaming. I must talk less about starting. I must simply do.

Because, who knows just how much metal still remains in my rope?

Time

My phone rang. The time was 4.01pm. The caller ID said Izzo.

“Hello.”

“Hi Martha.” His voice sounded off. It lacked the usual goofy quality.

“Have you heard the news?”

“What news?”

“Lilian has passed away.”

“Who?”

“Lilian.”

Izzo wanted my brother’s number. But I thought my brother should hear the news of his closest friend’s death from me. So I called him. He picked up on the first ring.

“Hello.”

“Hi. Have you heard the news?” I was still hoping Izzo had gotten it wrong.

“About Lilian?” That question, sinks all hope.

“Yes.”

“Yeah…She’s gone.”

Just like that.

I check her WhatsApp profile. Last seen today at 10.06am. I keep checking. Willing it to change to ‘online’. But it sticks to its timeline.

Last seen.

By who? The person she was chatting with? That person didn’t actually see her. The person who sat next to her in the doomed Matatu? Maybe. The first people at the scene? Did they see her? I don’t know.

I last spoke to Lilian last Monday. We didn’t actually speak. We chatted. Barely.

“Hi Lili.”

“Hi. How are you?”

“Am good. You?”

“Am sawa.”

“Remember, I wanted to write your story?”

“Yes honey. I do.”

“Well, I was serious.”

“No problem.”

That was Lilian. So uncomplicated.  Or maybe she didn’t think I was serious. But I was. I just didn’t think I’d be doing it so soon. Time pulled a fast one.

Lilian, this is not what I had in mind. I thought I’d write the story of a woman so vibrant and full of life. I thought I’d write of your struggles. Your triumph over the tribulations that life tossed your way. I thought I’d write of your inexplicable strength. Your hearty laugh. Your kindest of hearts.

I wanted to delve deeper. To chat over several of those tasty meals you were so famous for. But I wasn’t in a hurry. There was time. Time to polish my skills so I could do you justice. Time to wait for less hectic schedules because this wasn’t a story to be rushed. Time to peel layer after layer. Time to tell a story that honored you. Time to tell a story that cast a tow rope to many who felt like giving up.

Lilian, this story was meant to have many funny anecdotes; like the one about your dad and his dentures. Or the one about my dad, all those many years ago when we were all little tots. It was supposed to be filled with many happy memories; like the time we stayed up till 1am telling silly stories. It was supposed to inspire strength; like the time your baby’s father kicked you out with an infant and a fresh caesarean wound. How you summoned the strength to keep going. How you got back on your feet. How you journeyed every day. Faced every challenge. And how you created opportunity after opportunity to extend kindness.

Lilian, this was supposed to be a living story. A story we’d add to as we grew older. It was supposed to be a story we’d reminisce about when we became grannies. Way in the future.

Instead, I have only this. This sad ending to your life. This void wish that you were still here. This helpless yearning to turn back time. To last month; to last Monday; to the moment before you boarded that matatu; to five minutes before your ‘last seen’. Anything. I’d take anything. If only for a chance to alter this reality.

 

But time laughs

Because time negotiates with no one

We take only what it gives

Only what it deems fit to give

And when time decides to call it;

Our best skills,

Our fervent pleas,

Our loudest cries,

None could turn the clock back;

None could bring you back;

None could wrench you from the clutch of time –

None could give to us a choice

Except maybe to grasp the hand of time,

This cruel cruel time

And be grateful to it

For the time it gave you.

 

Fare thee well my sister.

Tendai couldn’t have asked for a better Mother.

Boy is lucky

Boy meets girl. Boy winks. Girl smiles. Boy walks girl home. Boy returns later and hoots like an owl. Girl sneaks out of the hut she shares with her siblings. Together, they slink into the quiet embrace of the banana plantation. Boy gets lucky. Boy is lucky, girl is not me.

I’m sorry, banana what?

Let me try to wrap my head around this. Have you ever seen a strong banana tree? Me neither! They all look like they’re ready to keel over! So I guess boy and girl have fog in their thoughts.

“We’ll be careful, I promise.”

Right.

They’re careful at first. Then flint catches stone. Someone leans on a leaning trunk. Next thing they know, all three of them go crashing down. Girl lets out a startled shriek. How she didn’t see that coming, is beyond me. The landing is uncomfortable. But that’s not even a concern;

“Shhhhh!”

“Did anyone hear us?” She asks, in that helpless tone that only a woman can pull off.

“What do you mean ‘us’?” He asks, in that incredulous tone that only a man can pull off.

“Are you implying this is my fault?”

“I’m not the one who opened my big mouth!”

“Oh, so now it’s a big mouth?”

He sighs.

“No, if you have something to say, say it!”

“I’ve already said everything I needed to say.”

“That my mouth is big?”

“Be quiet!”

“Oh! So now my voice is a problem too?”

“Someone’s coming!”

“Shit. What do we do?” She is such a stickler for ‘us’ and ‘we’ labels.

“I have to go.” He is sticking to the only label that works for him.

“Wait! Tonight was -”

“Tomorrow, same time, same place.” He interrupts. He does not wait for an answer.

“- beautiful.” She whispers to the darkness.

That Bukumune is something else. On her mat, she goes to sleep. Thoughts of Bukumune abound.

Boy is lucky.

Enter a different scene.

Boy is all grown up. He goes by Steve now. He’s surrounded by a different plantation. The concrete kind. He dons a pair of swimming trunks and sandals. He heads for the pool.  At the poolside, he finds girl in a green swimsuit. Her legs are dipped in the water.

“Why aren’t you swimming?” Steve asks.

“I don’t know how to swim.”

You wouldn’t know it, to look at him, but Steve can hear Angels singing Hallelujah.

“I can teach you.”  He offers.

“Reeeeaaaally?”

Steve nods and gets into the water.

“Lesson 1; how to float.”

I don’t know how, but Steve convinces her that the quickest way to master the floating technique is by lying on his back! I swear this guy can sell miraa to a miraa farmer!

So she gets on Steve’s back. The water holds for all of three seconds. Then Steve starts to sink. He panics. The fear in his eyes is visible from miles away. She becomes a hot splash.

The shallow water is his saving grace. He soon puts a thumb on the situation and ‘saves’ her from drowning. She remains clueless that Steve is clueless about swimming.

Like I said, boy is lucky!